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Film review: A closer look at Mike Danna — and why he’s earned a more significant role

The rookie fifth-rounder had his most productive game of the year and is making a case for even more work moving forward.

Houston Texans v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs left Miami with yet another come-from-behind win — as they were able to come back and then hold off the Dolphins this past week. After a few mental mistakes put them in a hole early, the Chiefs were able to play elite football in the middle quarters of the game and build themselves a nice lead.

The score became a little closer down the stretch than it should have been, but that is also the nature of the 2020 Chiefs. Outside of the obvious incredibly high ceiling of this football team, another one of the major takeaways has to be the resurgence of the defensive line in its ability to rush the passer.

The line netted four sacks and three more hits on Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on Sunday, its highest output since the first month of the season. Not only did both Frank Clark and Chris Jones play high-tier games, but they also were finally able to get some help from others along the line. Tershawn Wharton added a sack and Alex Okafor had three quarterback hits, but it’s Mike Danna who may have showcased the most complete game against the Dolphins.

Often tasked with early-down reps in spell of Clark or even Tanoh Kpassagnon, Danna isn’t seen as some kind of pass-rush specialist but rather a base-down defensive end. That didn’t stop him from earning a sack and a couple of other pressures to go along with quite the impressive performance defending the run.

Mike Danna | DE

Pass rush

Danna isn’t prioritized as a pass rusher in Kanas City as it stands, as most of his pass-rush snaps come on early downs. This makes it a little more difficult to gauge him as a pass rusher, because on most reps, he has to read run or pass first, then react rather than just exploding off the ball and getting upfield.

Still, Danna was able to find some success as a pass rusher despite a less-than-ideal role.

Hand technique

Most of Danna’s pressures are going to come a little later into the play, as his style of rushing is predicated on getting his hands on blockers and then beating them. On Chris Jones' safety, Danna was right there likely to collect it if Jones didn’t come free on the stunt thanks to his handwork against the offensive tackle.

Danna is very consistent at getting his hands on tackles first, and he often lands them inside of the tackle’s chest. For a guy without the longest arms, it’s quite impressive how he is able to consistently lean into the offensive tackle and get the advantageous hand position. The rush doesn’t end there, however, as Danna always has another part of his plan. On this particular play, he’s going to rip up and under the tackle’s outside arm but knows he has to set it up first. A repositioning of the inside hand from the chest to more into the armpit/shoulder area followed by securing the tackle’s outside elbow with his hand.

He’s simultaneously able to pull down the outside arm of the tackle while retracting his own inside shoulder, which creates the space he needs and pulls the tackle off balance. Danna is then able to rip his inside hand up and under the outside arm of the tackle and use that leverage to turn the corner for a sack.

That’s a long description of a specific play to simply say, Danna has really good hand technique and knows how to work leverage while engaged.

Strength

Along with the hand technique, Danna also has fantastic strength both in his hands and his core. Working up the arc, he’s able to clear the offensive tackle’s initial punch and gain hand control — then his own power takes over.

He hits the tackle with a hump move up the arc, and while he doesn’t win cleanly, it creates the space for him to re-engage with better hand position. Danna’s able to bull rush the tackle backward, and as he feels the tackle trying to lean back into him to regain balance, Danna pulls him out of the way, utilizing the leverage he had engineered.

Combining the hand technique and raw power together, Danna does have a path to excel as a pass rusher and is very good at identifying how to use it.

Juice

Here lies the one concern with Danna as a pass rusher and the ultimate upside: there is just a lack of “juice.” Now, what exactly does that mean?

It could simply be speed or explosion off the line of scrimmage. Other times, it’s going to be the ability to fluidly bend underneath a block or change directions — or even ankle flexibility and how tight of a corner he can turn. Most of Danna’s pressures come the same way: an engagement with the tackle as he reads the play followed by some fantastic handwork to break free.

He’s not often winning super early in the pass rush or showcasing the kind of “pass-rush juice” that results in strong pass-rush performances. As he garners more time in the NFL, he may be able to better utilize his power and hand technique while on the move to quicken his pass rush, but right now, there is still a limited ceiling.

Run defense

As mentioned, Danna sees a lot of his playing time on early downs and that’s because he is an excellent run defender. Whether it’s holding the point of attack, staying assignment sound on containing or completely blowing up the play, he’s always around the ball against the run.

Point of attack

If you run at Danna, you better be ready for a battle. Similar to how he works his pass rush with power and great hand technique, that’s how he plays the run.

Danna consistently gains control of the line of scrimmage with great hand placement and then has the power to hold his position. It goes even further than that, as he’s able to keep his base strong and extend blockers off of his chest so he can disengage and go make a play.

Even when dealing with a double team, Danna is able to hold his ground and keep a second-level player clean from a blocker. He does an incredible job feeling the blocks and their leverage, then reacting in a proper manner. It helps that he often has the superior hand and even body position, but the raw power to press blockers off or absorb a double team is impressive.

Eyes

Another feather in the cap of Danna’s run defense is his intelligence and how disciplined his eyes are. He’s rarely caught out of position and a big reason is that he is able to see and process the play incredibly quickly. He doesn’t take the cheese often biting on misdirection. That results in even better results when the play comes to him because he often gets a jump on the play.

Reading the blocks and the ball, Danna is able to jump out early and rarely gets pinned or sealed off. Even when working through contact — like on this cut block — he’s able to keep his eyes on the ball and cut off the path. His eyes stay active, as he’s able to identify not only the blocker in his path but also other blockers working in the area. He’s constantly working to attack the next blocker — to keep teammates free and not be caught off guard — but does so in a manner that also leaves him in the best position to make a play on the ball.

For what he may lack in length or overall mass, Danna more than makes up for in his technique and instincts as a run defender.

The bottom line

Danna has been impressive all season for the Chiefs, but against the Dolphins, he played his strongest game of the year.

While he may not have the highest upside as a pass rusher, he showed how he can be utilized as a tertiary rusher to clean-up quarterbacks escaping Frank Clark and Chris Jones. He really makes his mark on the game as a run defender, where he simply outperforms every defensive end not named Clark.

His ability to play assignment-sound football while putting himself in position to make plays at the point of attack is not something the Chiefs have gotten out of the left defensive end position.

Danna has been an excellent draft pick so far, and if his play this past week is any indication, he should start taking more and more of the base defensive end snaps for the defense.